Why Mars: NASA and the Politics of Space Exploration. By W. Henry Lambright. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014. Notes. Index. Pp. xii, 321. $49.95 ISBN: 978-1-4214-1279-5
With two rovers Opportunity and the considerably larger, more sophisticated Curiosity actively trekking across the surface of Mars, collecting valuable scientific data and searching for signs of life, should we assume Mars exploration has a predictably bright future? Professor Lambright of Syracuse University, while hopeful for such a future, understands how unpredictable policy formulation can be at the nexus of science and politics, where desires and fiscal realities mesh or collide. In Why Mars, Lambright identifies five distinct eras of policymaking, with a sixth presumably beginning in 2016, related to Mars exploration. He finds that failures, ironically, triggered policy changes and resulted in program reformulations that have advanced Mars exploration.
Mindful that people, acting individually or in concert, make history, Lambright argues that an "advocacy coalition" has propelled Mars exploration. The individuals within that coalition have come and gone over time, but they have included such luminaries as astronomer Carl Sagan, science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, politician Al Gore, JPL advanced-program manager Louis Friedman, astrochemist and NASA manager Wesley Huntress, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, and a host of others. Some of those individuals also expressed their sentiments through interest groups, such as the Planetary Society, the Mars Underground, and the later Mars Society founded by Bob Zubrin. Why Mars presents a detailed account of how those individuals and groups countered opponents within NASA itself, at the Office of Management and Budget, and in Congress to perpetuate Mars exploration a program of programs.
With skillful dexterity, Lambright has mined an impressive amount and variety of source material, from which he has constructed an analytically superb narrative. Perusal of his endnotes exposes his breadth of research across official NASA...